J. Geils Band loves Detroit

Susan Whitall / Detroit News Music Writer

August 21, 2010

From The Detroit News:


Sometimes a place is best understood through the eyes of an outlier. That's true of southeastern Michigan, which becomes "Detroit City" in the inimitable patois of J. Geils Band front man Peter Wolf.

In "Detroit City" everything is possible: the music is legendary, all men are handsome, the women unutterably gorgeous,and everybody is dancing.The J. Geils Band loves Detroit and as all lovers should, the band reminds us of our charms, even if we've forgotten.

The Geils band brought its floating house party to DTE Energy Theatre (pointedly referred to as "Pine Knob" throughout the evening by Wolf) Saturday night. The only other show it did this year was last week at Fenway Park in Boston (opening for Aerosmith, who were vanquished, by all accounts, by their crosstown rivals).

"I am reliving my youth," said one smiling middle-aged fan as he vaulted over seats -- politely, without hurting anybody -- to get to the front of the stage. Everybody seemed to be either reliving their youth, or enjoying it for the first time.

The Geils band's genius has always been in understanding pace and dynamics, setting up a concert like an old-fashioned soul revue,with everything -- audio, visual, visceral -- planned for maximum entertainment value. It's the old school Apollo Theatre ethos:let up for a minute, and tomatoes will be hurled at you from the second balcony.

The element of surprise was invoked at the beginning of the show, when the Chippewa High School marching band in white uniforms, complete with high, feathered helmets, came out onstage and played "Centerfold."

It was an affectionate hello from the band, a nod to a show opener they used to employ back in the day. The marching band's innocent (but competent) rendering of the tune set the perfect, heart felt tone for the rest of the evening.

The band hit the stage running with their Motown cover, the Contours' "First I Look at the Purse," with Wolf entering at maximum velocity from stage right, executing his familiar jittery steps.

There are innumerable things to look at when J. Geils Band is on stage; the dance stylings of Wolf; Magic Dick moving rhythmically about the stage as he plays; Seth Justman attacking his keyboards or J. Geils peeling off a particularly bluesy guitar lick... On Saturday a pleasant addition were a male backup singer and two female singers, the latter dubbed the "Geilettes" by Wolf (he made much of the fact that one, Nichelle Tillman, was a Detroiter and made her state her high school -- Northwestern, class of '88).

The Uptown Horns (including onetime Detroiter Crispin Cioe) added a fierce, funky roar of horns to the mix, at one point tearing off the "Peter Gunn" theme when Wolf ordered them to solo.

Wolf went crowd-walking during "Musta Got Lost," creating mania as he hurtled up Aisle 4, then vaulted over laps and legs in Row M, and ambledback down Aisle 3 to the stage, singing while a roadie hovered protectively behind him.

A J. Geils Band show has to encompass a lot of stylistic ground, starting with their funky cover band days (they revived a cover of "Land of 1,000 Dances," done Wilson Pickett style), their blues band roots (they scorched through John Lee Hooker's "Serves You Right to Suffer") through their Cinderella Ballroom show band era ("Detroit Breakdown" and many more). A sizable segment of the audience waits impatiently for the '80s hits, shrieking when they hear Justman's inimitable keyboard intro to "Freeze Frame."

There was a brief technical glitch when Magic Dick's amp failed just as he was gaining speed on his star turn, "Whammer Jammer," but Wolf ran over to offer him his mic, and the show went on. It's amazing how tight the band is, with so few gigs played in the last few years. From all accounts, a lot of rehearsing went on this summer to ensure that the band's two hometowns were not disappointed.

It's a generosity of spirit that not all veteran bands can muster, but ensures that the emotional bond between band and adopted city endures.

Pine Knob -- er, DTE -- has a strict 11 p.m. curfew, and it was clear after several encores that Wolf and the band were not anxious to leave. At the end, the singer hung back and kept up his breakneck chatter to the crowd, rattling off the names of his favorite Detroit bands and concert halls, then he reminded all "Remember, if it's in you, it's got to come out!"He called out"Deee-troit city" and waved fondly, wishing all safe journeys.

The newly reconstituted Rockets, with singer Jim Edwards joining veterans Jimmy McCarty (guitar) and Johnny Bee Badanjak (drums) from the original outfit, was the perfect opening band, each song a hit, executed perfectly and without an ounce of excess.

The audience clearly enjoyed seeing McCarty and Badanjak on the big DTE stage, where such iconic players belong, and Edwards sings their Mitch Ryder songs ("Rock and Roll") as well as the Rockets' own catalog with ease.